|City||Charlotte, North Carolina|
|Affiliations||CBS Sports Radio|
|Owner||Urban One |
(Radio One of North Carolina, LLC)
First air date
Former call signs
Call sign meaning
|Power||5,000 watts (day)|
1,000 watts (night)
|Translator(s)||102.5 W273DA (Charlotte)|
|Repeater(s)||107.9 WLNK-HD3 (Charlotte)|
Public license information
Listen live (via Audacy)
WFNZ (610 AM, known on air as "102.5/610 WFNZ," is a commercial radio station in Charlotte, North Carolina. Owned by Urban One, the station airs a sports radio format.
WFNZ offers local sports hosts weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Nights and weekends, it carries programming from CBS Sports Radio. WFNZ serves as the flagship station for the Charlotte Hornets basketball team.
The studios and offices are located at 1 Julian Price Place, while its transmitter is located at the site of its former studios on Radio Road in the Oakdale neighborhood of Northwest Charlotte. WFNZ uses a directional antenna and transmits with 5,000 watts by day. At night, it reduces power to 1,000 watts, sending most of its signal to the east, to avoid interfering with other stations on AM 610 and adjacent frequencies. WFNZ also broadcasts on 200-watt FM translator W273DA at 102.5 MHz, and on the HD3 subchannel of sister station WLNK.
WFNZ first signed on in 1941 as WAYS. It one of only three radio stations in Charlotte, operating at 1,000 watts around the clock. WAYS was owned by the Inter-City Advertising Company and was an affiliate of the NBC Blue Network and Mutual Broadcasting System. By the 1950s, it increased its daytime power to 5,000 watts, using a directional antenna.
By the 1960s, WAYS was Charlotte's lowest-rated station. Its studios were in such bad shape, cats were needed to control the rodents. Stan and Sis Kaplan of Boston bought WAYS in May 1965 for $550,000. Beginning in June of that year, "61 Big WAYS" aired an energetic Top 40 format which was considered "an alien sound in the Carolinas." It went to #1, surpassing longtime leader 1110 WBT, eventually becoming one of the highest-rated Top 40 stationa in the country.
One reason was the Treasure Hunt, where people had to listen to clues from "Mr. Treasure" (Jack Gale) telling them how to find a $1,000 coupon. News director C. Michael Blackwell would interview winners. Personalities included John Kilgo, Jack Pride, Tom Kinard, Jack Armstrong, Pete Ray of "The Pete Ray-D-O Show", Dick Blanchard, and Long John Silver. WAYS jocks who went on to greater fame included Morton Downey Jr., actor Jay Thomas, and Robert Murphy (who had success in Chicago). Eventually, the morning show was simulcast on both WAYS and sister FM WROQ. Larry Sprinkle, now a WCNC-TV morning weather personality, also worked at the stations. They were known for lampooning The PTL Club with Bill Taker of the Pass the Loot Club.
However, due to rising popularity of music on FM radio, ratings for the station dropped, and in September 1982, WAYS changed formats to a hybrid news talk/adult contemporary format. The ratings continued to slide, and in August 1984, it became WROQ (AM) and flipped back to Top 40, while simulcasting its then-FM sister station (now WNKS) in morning and afternoon drive-times. In June 1986, it changed its calls to WAES (a phonetic version of the old calls) with an oldies format, briefly bringing back its old "61 Big WAYS" moniker. Also, in September of that year, the Kaplans sold the stations for $15 million to CRB Broadcasting, who would then sell them to Adams Radio in July 1988, then to Tenore Broadcasting in March 1989.
However, WAES failed to make much headway in the ratings, despite playing many of the songs it played in its heyday as part of the satellite-delivered Oldies Channel format. After 18 months, on June 27, 1988, WAES began airing the "AM Only" adult standards satellite format during the day, and talk show hosts Bruce Williams, Neil Myers and Larry King at night. It brought back the WROQ calls on January 18, 1990, flipped to the Z-Rock network, and rebranded as "Q61". On January 15, 1991, it became WGKL, and reverted to oldies after Adams Radio re-acquired the two stations. WGKL aired the "Kool Gold" satellite format, while the FM aired its sister network "Pure Gold". In October of that year, it became WAQS (another phonetic play on its old calls) while keeping the oldies format. The flip to oldies was part of a company-wide initiative where most of Adams' stations flipped to the format. However, this resulted in the bankruptcy of the company, with their stations being placed in receivership and being sold off one by one.
Finally, on August 31, 1992, it became Charlotte's first ever all-sports station as "Sports 610 AM WAQS." Gerry Vaillancourt, formerly of WCNT, was the station's first local sports talk host on September 14. Another local host was Michele Tafoya, who was then known on-air as Mickey Conley. In March 1993, AT&T would acquire WAQS and its FM sister (by then WAQQ) temporarily while a permanent owner was being sought. Pyramid Broadcasting, then-owners of WRFX, bought the stations in September 1993, and WAQS became known as WRFX, with the moniker "Fox 610 Sports" in May 1994. Pyramid merged with Evergreen Media in July 1995, resulting in WRFX-FM being spun off to SFX Broadcasting, and AM 610 going to Evergreen. WRFX-AM then took its current calls, WFNZ, on November 20, 1995, with the slogan "Where Fans Rule." In December 1996, WFNZ (and Evergreen's 4 other Charlotte stations) were swapped to EZ Communications (Evergreen would receive EZ's Philadelphia stations WIOQ and WUSL in return). American Radio Systems acquired EZ Communications in July 1997, followed by Infinity Broadcasting's acquisition of ARS in September. Infinity was renamed to CBS Radio in December 2005.
On April 1, 1996, Vaillancourt moved to WBT. One reason was that at WFNZ, he would have had to give up his role in Charlotte Hornets broadcasts.
In 2003, WFNZ added a semi-satellite, WFNA, on 1660 AM after the FCC expanded the AM radio band. It replaced Infinity-owned gospel station WGIV (1600 AM), which left the air. (The WGIV call letters are now on a different station in the Charlotte area, under different ownership.) The two stations, known as "The Franchise," simulcast on weekdays and had separate schedules during nights and weekends. Now known as WBCN, the station began airing a talk radio format on September 14, 2009, before returning to sports as a full-time affiliate of CBS Sports Radio on January 3, 2013.
From 2006 to 2012, WFNZ has been the Charlotte-area home of North Carolina Tar Heels football and basketball. WBT sales director Steve Sklenar said the games pre-empted John Hancock's show and, during the ACC Tournament, Rush Limbaugh. WBT wanted the games, Sklenar said, because its powerful 50,000-watt signal brought the Tar Heels to most of the East Coast at night. However, the pre-emptions cost the station a lot of money. In contrast, WFNZ could use WFNA to air Charlotte 49ers basketball even when there was a conflict.
For many years, WFNZ boasted the second-strongest signal in the Charlotte area, at 5,000 watts (which is stronger at 610 AM than it would be on a higher frequency). However, WCRU and sister WBCN operate at 10,000 watts. During the day, it provides at least grade B coverage to 35 counties in North and South Carolina. However, it must power down to 1,000 watts at night due to a large glut of clear-channel stations on nearby channels. This makes WFNZ hard to hear even in some parts of Mecklenburg County and all but unlistenable in much of the South Carolina portion of the market. Due to its nighttime signal limitations, UNC signed up WFNZ's former FM sister WRFX to simulcast Tar Heel basketball games from 2008 to 2011, as well as any football games kicking off after 5 PM. WNOW-FM took over this duty for the 2011-12 season, after which the Tar Heels moved back to WBT full-time.
Shortly after WBCN broke off from WFNZ, two of the other stations in CBS Radio's Charlotte cluster, WPEG and WBAV, added WFNZ to their digital subcarriers to improve WFNZ's nighttime signal.
WFNZ runs a tailgate prior to Carolina Panthers home games at the station's "Doghouse" located near Bank of America Stadium.
In November 2007, the station went through a scheduling change when the station lost its syndication of "The Bill Rosinski Show" after the Charis Radio Network cancelled the show. Instead of picking up syndication from Sporting News Radio or ESPN Radio, the station added a one-hour show featuring Chuck Howard and added an hour to the "Mac Attack" show. On October 1, 2008, Howard announced that he was leaving the station to become the producer for NASCAR Media Group. A new show featuring former Carolina Panthers players Frank Garcia and Brentson Buckner began airing on October 6, 2008.
On September 14, 2009, WFNZ changed its branding from "The Franchise" to "The Fan", moving in some ESPN Radio programming from 1660 AM and dropping Sporting News Radio programming. WBCN, formerly WFNA, broke from the simulcast and flipped to a news talk format as "America's Talk 1660."
November 24, 2010 was the last day for Mark Packer, host of the station's most popular show "Primetime with the Packman", and a WFNZ host for 13 years. His show is still syndicated to 14 stations in markets that include Raleigh, Greensboro and Charleston. Though Packer, son of Billy Packer, continued his "Southern Fried Football" and "Packman on Sports" on the WJZY 10:00 newscast, he would be off Charlotte radio due to a non-compete clause until July 2011.
On August 8, 2011, WZGV took over ESPN Radio programming from WFNZ, which aired the network mostly at night. Fox Sports Radio would be used for night and weekend slots.
May 14, 2014 was the last day for Marc James, host of "The Drive with Marc James." He announced it on the air and on Twitter.
On October 2, 2014, CBS Radio announced that it would trade all of their Tampa and Charlotte stations (including WFNZ), as well as WIP (AM) in Philadelphia to the Beasley Broadcast Group in exchange for 5 stations located in Miami and Philadelphia. The swap was completed on December 1, 2014.
On July 25, 2016, WFNZ added a translator at 102.5 FM.
On October 18, 2016, Beasley announced that WFNZ (and its FM translator) would be sold to Entercom, pending FCC approval. The move comes after Beasley's acquisition of Greater Media (which locally owned WBT AM/FM and WLNK; those stations were to be spun off to a divestiture trust in order to stay under ownership limits, but were also sold to Entercom as well). Upon the completion of the Greater/Beasley merger on November 1, Entercom began operating the stations via a time brokerage agreement, which lasted until the sale was consummated on January 10, 2017.
On November 5, 2020, Urban One agreed to a station swap with Entercom in which they would swap ownership of four stations in Philadelphia, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. to Entercom in exchange for their cluster of Charlotte stations, including WFNZ. As part of the terms of the deal, Urban One took over operations via a local marketing agreement on November 23. The swap was consummated on April 20, 2021.